Buddhist Layman


 

- Buddha Web

 

To avoid evil,
To do good,
To purify the mind,
This is the advice of all the Buddhas.

- The Buddha (Dhammapada)

 

Reality of Life (Let it be  meaningful):

The Lotus-like Lay-follower

A lay-follower (upasaka) who has five qualities is a jewel of a lay-follower, is like a lily, like a lotus. What are these five qualities? He has faith; he is virtuous; he is not superstitious; he believes in action (kamma) and not in luck or omen; he does not seek outside (of the Order) for those worthy of support and does not attend there first.

- Buddha (Chandala Sutta


Recommanded Book For Lay Buddhist Follower

What Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula - This is one of the most comprehensive book on Theravada Buddhism which is respected by intelectuals all over the world.


Ten Virtues of the Lay-follower

- He shares the joys and sorrows of the Order.
- He places the Dhamma first
- He enjoys giving according to his ability
- If he sees a decline in the Dispensation of the Teaching of the Buddha, he strives for its strong growth
- He has right views, disregarding belief in superstitions and omens; he will not accept any other teacher, not even for the sake of his life
- He guards his deeds and words
- He loves and cherishes peace and concord
- He is not envious or jealous
- He does not live a Buddhist life by way of deception or hypocrisy
- He has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

- Milindapañha

 

A layman’s happiness

The bliss of ownership
A person has wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by strength of arm, won by sweat, lawful, and lawfully gotten. At the thought, wealth is mine, acquired by energetic striving, lawfully gotten, bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of ownership.

The bliss of wealth
A person by means of wealth acquired by energetic striving, both enjoys his wealth and does meritorious deeds therewith. At the thought, by means of wealth acquired, I both enjoy my wealth and do meritorious deeds, bliss comes to him, and satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of wealth.

The bliss of debtlessness
A person owes no debt, great or small, to anyone. At the thought, I owe no debt, great or small, to anyone, bliss comes to him, and satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of debtlessness.

The bliss of blamelessness
A person is blessed with blameless action of body, blameless action of speech, blameless action of mind. At the thought, I am blessed with blameless action of body, speech and mind, bliss comes to him, satisfaction comes to him. This is called the bliss of blamelessness."
(Ref: Layman's Happiness)

 

How very happily we live,
free from hostility
among those who are hostile.
Among hostile people,
free from hostility we dwell.

How very happily we live,
free from misery
among those who are miserable.
Among miserable people,
free from misery we dwell.

- Dhammapada (chappt:Happy)

 

I want to become a Buddhist. How do I do that? 
It begins with one deceptively simple act: making the inner commitment to "take refuge" in the Triple Gem, to accept the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as your source of spiritual guidance. This act is what makes one nominally "Buddhist." But going for refuge also implies a willingness — if only provisional, at first — to accept the cornerstone of the Buddha's teachings: the law of kamma. According to this universal principle, if you act unskillfully and make poor ethical choices, you are bound to suffer the consequences; if you choose wisely and act in line with the noblest ideals, you stand to benefit accordingly. In other words, your happiness ultimately depends on the quality of your choices and actions; you alone are responsible for your happiness. Your first act after seeking refuge should therefore be to resolve to observe the five precepts — the five basic principles of living that can help prevent you from making grossly unskillful choices. This is where the practice of Buddhism begins.

You don't need a formal public ceremony or "initiation" to make any of this official. There are no equivalents in Buddhism to Christianity's "baptism" or "confirmation" rituals. You don't have to dress differently or wear a badge that says, "I am now a Buddhist." The practice of the Dhamma is a private matter and no one needs to know about it but you. Many Buddhists do, however, find it invaluable to renew their commitment to the Triple Gem and to the precepts from time to time in a more formal way, enlisting the help of a good friend, a respected meditation teacher, or a member of the monastic community (Sangha) as a witness.Administering the refuges and precepts to laypeople is a duty that Buddhist monks are glad to perform.

Many people find it difficult to sustain their commitment to the Dhamma on their own, without the support of like-minded friends and companions. (It can be hard to stick to the precepts if you're surrounded by people who see no harm in telling lies, or in having a secret romantic affair now and then, or in going out drinking all night.) You may have to do a little patient detective work to find this kind of support.

Having taken these first steps, you can proceed along the Buddhist path in your own way and at your own pace. Although you can learn a great deal about Dhamma on your own, your understanding will grow by leaps and bounds once you find a good teacher — someone whom you trust and respect, who keeps to the precepts, and who understands the Dhamma and can communicate it clearly. Other aids to progress in understanding the Dhamma are these: deepening your understanding of the precepts; studying the suttas; getting to know monks or nuns (the Sangha) and becoming acquainted with their traditions; developing a keen, discerning ear that can recognize which of today's popular spiritual teachings actually ring true to what the Buddha taught; and learning meditation. How you proceed is entirely up to you, but the bottom line is this: learn what the Buddha taught and put it into practice in your life as best you can.

If you ever decide that the Buddha's teachings aren't for you, you are free to walk away at any time and find your own way. There is no ceremony for renouncing the Buddha's teachings. Just remember: your happiness is in your own hands.

(Ref: Access to Insight)

 

Make an island of yourself,
make yourself your refuge;
there is no other refuge.
Make truth your island,
make truth your refuge;
there is no other refuge.

- The Buddha (Cakkavatti Sutta)

 

 

There are some who believe that Buddhism is so lofty and sublime system that it cannot be practiced by ordinary men and woman in this workaday world of ours, and that one has to retire from it to a monastery, or to a quiet place, if one desires to be a true Buddhist. This is a sad misconception, either due to evidently to a lack of understanding of the Buddha or it is really an unconscious defense against practicing it.

According to Theravada Buddhist tradition four type of disciples are identified, namely;

- monks (Pali: bhikkhu)
- nuns (Pali: bhikkhuni)
- laymen (Pali: upāsaka)
- laywomen (Pali: upāsikā)

These four types of disciples have been there from the Buddha's time to now. Unlike most of the other religions, in Buddhism, all those come under these categories have a common goal, that is to fully understand the reality of life and then terminate the vicious cycle of 'life and death' (samsara) for ever.

The Buddha’s teaching is meant not only for monks in monasteries, but also for ordinary men and woman living at home at their families. The Nobal Eightfold Path, which is Buddha’s way of life, is meant for all, without distinction of any kind.

Not only the goal but also the path is the same for all. It is known as the 'Noble Eightfold Path' or 'Middle Path'. The only difference between a monk and a layman is the method of following this Noble Eightfold Path.

The monk's ascetic lifestyle is shaped so as to support their spiritual practice, to live a simple, happy and meditative life and therefore they live by a framework of monastic discipline known as vinaya. They are the ones having understand the reality of life in greater extent and therefore decided to fully devote their life to follow Noble Eightfold Path with the view of attaining Nibbana.

Buddhism should not be thought to be a teaching for monks only, as it is sometimes wrongly conceived. A lay Buddhist is the one who accept the teaching of the Buddha, yet choose to practice his teaching (Dhamma) while remain as a layman. In a large number of his discourses, the Buddha has given practical guidance for the lay life and sound advice to cope with life's difficulties.

The vast majority of people in the world can not turn monks, or retire into caves of forests. However noble and pure Buddhism may be, it would be useless to the masses of mankind if they could not follow it in their daily life in the world of today. But if you understand the spirit of Buddhism correctly, you can surely follow and practice it while living the life of an ordinary man.

There may be some who find it easier and more convenient to accept Buddhism, if they do live in remote place. Others may find that that kind of retirement dulls and depresses their whole being, and it may not be conducive to the development of their spiritual and intellectual life.

True renunciation does not mean running away physically from the world.

There are numerous in Buddhist literature to men and women living ordinary, normal family lives who successfully practiced what the Buddha taught, and realized nibbana.

One might now ask: If a man can follow Buddhism while living the life of an ordinary layman, why was the Sangha, the order of the monks, established by the Buddha? The Order provides opertunity for those who are willing to devote their lives not only for their own spiritual and intellectual development, but also to the service of others. An ordinary layman with family cannot be expected to devote his whole life to the service of others, whereas a monk, who has no family responsibilities or any other worldly ties, is in a position to devote his whole life “for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many” according to the Buddha’s advice. That is how in the cause of history, the Buddhist monastery became not only a spiritual centre, but also a centre of learning and culture.

Lay Buddhist life

If one desires to become a Buddhist, there is no initiation ceremony (or baptism) which one has to undergo. (But to become a bhikkhu, a member of the order of the Sangha, one has to undergo a long process of disciplinary training and education) If one understands the Buddha’s teaching, and if one is convinced that his teaching is the right Path and if one tries to follow it, then one is Budhhist. But according to unbroken age-old tradition in Buddhist countries, one is considered a Buddhist if one take the Buddha, the Dhamma (the Teaching) and the Sangha (the Order of monks) – generally called ‘the Triple-Gem’ – as one’s refuge, and undertakes to observethe Five percepts (pancha sila)- the minimum moral obligations of a lay Buddhist.

There are no external rites or ceremonies which a Buddhist has to perform. Buddhism is a way of life, and what is essential is following Nobel Eightfold Path. Of course, there are in all Buddhist countries simple and beautiful ceremonies on religious occasions. There are shrines with statues of Buddha, stupas or dagabas and Bo-trees in monasteries where Buddhist worship, offer flowers, light lamps and burn incense. This should not be linked to prayer in theistic religions; it is only a way of paying homage to the memory of the Master who showed the way. These traditional observances, though inessential, have their value in satisfying the religious emotions and needs of those who are less advance intellectually and spiritually, and helping them gradually along the path.

A follower of the Buddha learns to view life realistically, which enables him to adjust to everything that comes his way. Buddhism tells him the meaning and purpose of existence and his place in the scheme of things. It suggests the lines of conduct, supported by cogent reasons, by which he should live his daily life. It clarifies what his attitude should be to specific matters like self, job, sex, and society. Thus it assists him in the business of living, for to lead a full life, four fundamental adjustments have to be made. He must be happily adjusted to himself and the world, his occupation, his family, and his fellow beings.[1]

Many of our problems and difficulties for which some people blame circumstances and chance (or God), are, if correctly viewed, the result of ignorance or negligence. They could be well avoided or overcome by knowledge and diligence yet of course, worldly happiness and security are never perfect; they are always a matter of degree, for in the fleeting there is nothing truly firm.[1]

Himself and The World

A Buddhist tries to see things as they really are. He remembers the instability of everything and understands the inherent danger in expecting to find permanence in existence. In this way, he strives to insulate himself from potential disappointments. So, a discerning lay Buddhist is not unduly elated or upset by the eight worldly conditions of gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. He does not expect too much from others, nor from life, and recognizes that it is only human to have one's share of life's ups and downs.[1]

He looks at life's events in terms of cause and effect, however unpleasant or painful they may be. An understanding layman accepts dukkha (suffering/unsatisfactoriness) as the results of his own kamma — probably a past unskillful (akusala) action ripening in the present.[1]

He sees the connection between craving and suffering and therefore tries to reduce both the intensity and variety. As the Dhammapada states:[1]

From craving springs grief,
from craving springs fear,
For him who is wholly free from craving,
there is no grief — whence fear?
 - Dhammapada

Therefore, he is mindful of a scale of values — knowing clearly what is really important to him as a Buddhist layman, what is desirable but not so important, and what is trivial. He tries to eliminate the non-essential and learns to be content with the essential. Such a person soon discovers that to need less is to live better and happier. It is a mark of maturity. It is progress on the path to inner freedom. [1]

How does a lay Buddhist view himself? In the Buddha Dhamma, the human being is an impersonal combination of ever-changing mind and matter. In the flux is found no unchanging soul or eternal principle. The self or soul is then a piece of fiction invented by the human mind. To believe in such an absurdity is to create another source of unhappiness. One should therefore see oneself as one truly is — a conflux of mind and matter energized by tanha or craving, containing immense possibilities for both good and evil, neither overestimating nor underestimating one's capacities and capabilities.[1]

Simple Life

“Just like a hen wondering here and there to find a place to hide her egg, people are starving to satisfy themselves”
But in this sense, Buddhist has identified the reality of life, its unsatisfactory nature. Having fully understand this reality, they live a happy life. They are no longer living in past or future. They live every single moment happily.

Ever mindful lay Buddhist sees the world in its real form. He can identify his real needs without get trapped into various marketing campaigns around him, so called social pressure, etc. Buddhist layman is a free thinker. He sees that others spent most of time busy collecting money for so called pleasure seeks. People go for night clubs, drinking, addicted to films or music, etc. The Buddhist layman knows all these excessive activities by people are to satisfy so called ego. 

A plan like this brings order into an otherwise aimless and meaningless life, prevents drift and indicates the right direction and drive. A thoughtful lay Buddhist will not simply do what others do. He can resist the pull of the crowd when necessary. He is ever mindful both of ends pursued and the means employed. He does not merely go through life aimlessly; he goes, knowing clearly where he wants to go, with a purpose and a plan based on reality. [1] 

Be Good 

As the Blessed One teaches with incomparable beauty:

 Sabba papassa akaranam,
kusalassa upasampada
sacittapariyodapanam:
etam Buddhanusasanam
 
 To avoid evil,
To do good,
To purify the mind,
This is the advice of all the Buddhas.
- Dhammapada

This, in brief and simple outline, is the Teaching of the Buddha as it affects the householder's life. It is at once an ideal and a method. As an ideal, it aims at the evolution of a perfect Man — synonymous with the attainment of Nibbana — in this very life itself, by one's own efforts. Each develops according to his ability and each according to his needs whereby man, using the instrument of mind, by his own endeavor comes to know himself, train himself, and free himself from the thralldom of base desire, the blindness of hate, and the mist of a delusive self, to win the highest of all freedoms — freedom from error and ignorance.[1]

 

Follow the Noble Eightfold Path

The central problem of a lay Buddhist is how to combine personal progress in worldly matters with moral principles. He strives to achieve this by building his life on the foundation of the Fourth Noble Truth, the Noble Eightfold Path, and to shape his activities in accordance with it.

 Division  Path Factor
 Wisdom/Discernment (pañña) Right View/Understanding
Right Resolve/Thoughts
 Virtue (sila) Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
 Concentration (samadhi) Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

The first step of this Path is Right Understanding; by developing a life style in accordance with it, the other factors of the Path result from it. The eight steps of the Path fall into the three divisions of Wisdom (the first two), Morality (the second three), and Mental Culture (the last three).

The order of development is, however, Morality (sila), Mental Culture (samadhi), and Wisdom (pañña). [1]

As a householder, the Buddhist is particularly concerned with Morality. Right Understanding, however, is the prerequisite. Right Effort is the training of the will, and Right Mindfulness, the all-round helper. Progress to a lay Buddhist means the development of the whole man in society. It is, therefore, an advance on many fronts — the economic, the moral, and the spiritual, the first not as an end in itself but as a means to an end: the full flowing of the human being in the onward-carrying stream of Buddhist ideas and ideals.[1]

 

Earning a Living/Profession

The Buddha's teaching is a teaching of diligence and right effort or exertion. The opposite of diligence is negligence — aimless drift, sloth, and laziness which are hindrances to both material and moral progress. It is the active man who lives purposefully, who blesses the world with wealth and wisdom. So work is essential for happy living. Life without work would be an eternal holiday, which is the hell of boredom. [1]

A large part of our waking life is spent earning a living. So it is easy to appreciate why we should be at least moderately happy in our job. But choosing a suitable career, like choosing a marriage partner, is one of the most important yet one of the most difficult tasks in life. [1]

A lay Buddhist should find a profession that is not conflicting with five precepts. Any profession that will not harm the society, environment or other living beings is accepted. The Buddha has categorically discouraged following trades/professions.

  "A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison."  - AN 5.177

 

A Happy Family Life

Love and Sex

For the adult it is natural to love one person of the opposite sex. The sex instinct is a powerful impersonal impulse or force in us all to ensure the preservation of the race. Nature, to make sure of its objective, made the reproductive act of sexual union highly pleasurable so that it is inevitably sought by the individual for its own sake. The lay Buddhist will recognize that there is nothing "sinful" or shameful in sex, and hence will not suffer from a guilt complex over sexual desire. At the same time he or she will be aware that sexual desire, like any other form of desire, must be regulated and controlled to avoid harm to oneself and to others. [2]

It is not easy for an unmarried adult to practice sexual self-restraint till such time as he is able to marry. No doubt he lives in a sex-drenched commercial civilization where sex is seen, heard, sensed, and thought of most the time. But the ideal of sex only within marriage is something worth aiming at. The Buddhist's ultimate objective is, after all, to be a Perfect Man — not a perfect beast. And a start has to be made some day, somewhere — and now is the best time for it. [1]

Much can be done by sublimating the instinct by diverting the energy in the sex impulse into other activities. Developing an occupational interest or hobbies or sports can divert the mind and provide suitable outlets. Moderation in eating is helpful. But what is most important is the guarding of thoughts regarding all sexual matters. One must also avoid situations and stimuli likely to excite sexual desires. When sensual desires do arise, the following methods may be tried: [1]

Mindfully note the presence of such thoughts without delay; when they tend to arise, merely notice them without allowing yourself to be carried away by these thoughts. Simply neglect such thoughts, turning your mind either to beneficial thoughts or to an activity that absorbs you. Reflect on the possible end results. Steps should also be taken to foster and maintain all that is wholesome, as for instance, wise friendship, and keeping oneself usefully occupied at all times. If one has succeeded in meditative practice, the happiness derived from it will be a powerful counter-force against sexual desires.

This mindfulness is the only way to achieve self-mastery. It is a hard fight requiring patient and persistent practice; nevertheless, it is a fight worth waging and a goal worth winning [1]

A compassionate Buddhist, mindful of his own and others' welfare, acts wisely and responsibly in sexual matters. Misconduct for a layman means sexual union with the wives of others or those under protection of father, mother, sister, brother, or guardian, including one's employees. [1]

In a successful marriage the contracting parties must realize that love is a sentiment far wider than sexual attraction. If one person really loves another, he or she has to learn to give without expecting anything in return. Only in this way can the problem of sex be solved satisfactorily. Further, the would-be partners should ask themselves, "What do I expect of my partner?" and should find out objectively to what extent the prospective partner has the requisite qualities. [2]

Bring up Children

Most married couples hope to have children. Children differ, for each brings his or her own kammic inheritance from many past lives, a kammic inheritance that includes potential tendencies that set the general tone and trend of the child's character. This fact indicates both the responsibilities and the limitations of the parents in the upbringing of their children. [2]

The child spends most of the formative years of his or her life at home, and early in life learns to follow by imitation the values and lifestyle of the parents. Schools and other influential agencies cannot supplant or replace the parents. Buddhist parents should recognize their solemn obligation to serve as models for their children. They should therefore regularly observe the Five Precepts and show their children by example that the Dhamma yet lives and rules their daily lives. Parents must be aware that the child has immense potentials for both good and evil, and thus must fulfill their responsibility to help the child to develop his or her potential for good and to check the potential for evil. It is only if parents bestow their loving care and attention on their child that the child will be able to satisfy the hopes and aspirations of the parents. [2]

The Buddha has advised parents to guide their children, to supply their needs, to see to their education, to give them in marriage at the proper time, and to attend to all other aspects of their well-being. Unfortunately, however, many parents today do not discharge these duties, with the result that too often children go astray. Responsible Buddhist parents must be prepared to forgo their own pleasure in order to attend to the upbringing of their children. They must realize that the home influence is ultimately what matters most in forming the child's character, outweighing all other outside influences to which the child may be exposed. In areas where the parents lack adequate expertise, they should be prepared to consult a non-technical manual on proper child rearing. [2]

 

Social Relationships

The Buddha did not take life out of the context of its social and economic background; he looked at it as a whole, in all its social, economic and political aspects.

Cakkavattisihanada-sutta of Digha-nikaya clearly states that poverty (daliddiya) is the cause of immorality and crimes such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred, cruelty, etc. Kings in ancient times, like governments today, tried to suppress crime through punishment. The kutadanta-sutta of the same Nikaya explains how futile this is. It says that in order to irradiate crime, the economic condition of the people should be improved; grain and other facilities for agriculture should be provided for farmers and cultivators; capital should be provided for traders and those engaged in business; adequate wage should be paid to those who are employed. When people are thus provided for what opportunities for earning a sufficient income, they will be contented; will have no fear or anxiety, and consequently the country will be peaceful and free from crime.

Because of this, the Buddha told lay people how important it is to improve their economic condition. This does not mean that he approved of hoarding wealth with desire and attachment, which is against his fundamental teaching, nor did he approve of each and every way of earning one’s livelihood. There are certain traders like the production and sale of armaments, which he condemns as evil mean of livelihood.

A lay Buddhist lives in society. He must adjust himself to other people to get on smoothly with them.

Positively, the Buddhist layman is kind and compassionate to all, honest and upright, pure and chaste, sober and heedful in mind. He speaks only that which is true, in accordance with facts, sweet, peaceable, and helpful. Morality is a fence that protects us from the poisons of the outer world. It is, therefore, a pre-requisite for higher spiritual aspirations and through it character shines. The development of personality on such lines results in charm, tact, and tolerance — essential qualities to adjust oneself to society, and to get on well with other people.[1] 

 

 

References:

1. Principles of Lay Buddhism by R. Bogoda

2. A Simple Guide to Life by Robert Bogoda

3. I want to become a Buddhist. How do I do that?

4. Lay Buddhist Practice by Bhikkhu Khantipalo

5. Everyman's Ethics. Adapted from the translations of Narada Thera

6. One Foot in the World. Buddhist Approaches to Present-day Problems
by Lily de Silva

7. Buddhist Culture, The Cultured Buddhist by Robert Bogoda

4. The Buddhist Layman. Four essays by R. Bogoda, Susan Elbaum Jootla, and M.O'C. Walshe